The difference between a tantrum and a bout of sadness

Sometimes children struggle with their feelings. They feel sad and don’t know what to do. Then they start whining or complaining. They may even cry and scream. It’s not always easy to see the difference between a tantrum and a bout of sadness. But it’s important to find out what is going on. A tantrum often happens when a child is angry or when they don’t get their way. So it’s often a reaction to something. A bout of sadness, on the other hand, generally doesn’t have a direct cause.

When your child is struggling, the best thing to do is to comfort them. At times like that, your child needs attention and warmth, not punishment. So a time-out is not the best solution. Is a bout of sadness getting worse and is it starting to look more like a tantrum? Then it’s better to step away and leave your child alone for a bit.

How can you comfort your child?

  • Comfort your child with a hug or give them a kiss where it hurts.
  • Tell your child you have the impression they are sad. You could say, for example, “I think you’re sad; is that right?”.
  • Talk to your child about how they feel. Try to find out why they feel like that or see whether you can find a solution, for example by asking, “What happened?”, “What are you thinking?”, “Why was that not nice?” or “How can we do this differently?”.